BOOK OF MORMON LESSON 31: ALMA 43-52
“FIRM IN THE FAITH OF CHRIST”
Note: This lesson is frickin’ 10 chapters long. Seriously, whatever committee was in charge of determining the lessons could have broken this one up into at least 2 lessons. Given that I had a very busy work week and that my wife and I are celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary this weekend, I had almost no time to work on this post. I apologize. This is all you guys get and I doubt I will later have time to come back and add more.
In two previous posts I have cited the following given by Grant Hardy in which he points out the interruption in the story of the Zoramite War:
Occasionally there is tension between Mormon’s desire to tell an edifying story and his commitments to accuracy. He believes the facts of history will demonstrate moral principles, but the messy details of the past can get in the way of clear, unambiguous lessons. Embedded documents offer one way of avoiding inconvenient truths while at the same time fulfilling his obligations as a historian. They allow him to present a few significant particulars without having to comment upon them directly.
[In the previous chapters and in this chapter, we have sermons] by Alma and Amulek, with the result that many of the poorer Zoramites repent and are consequently expelled from the city. They make their way to the land of Jershon, where they are welcomed and given land (Alma 32:1-5; 35:1-7). The Zoramites are so angered by the hospitality of the Nephites in Jershon that they form an alliance with the Lamanites to attack them (the very scenario that Alma’s preaching was intended to prevent). Next we read that “thus commenced a war betwixt the Lamanites and the Nephites…an account will be given of their wars hereafter” (Alma 35:13; note that the combined Zoramite/Lamanite forces are now simply referred to as “Lamanites”).
Mormon quickly observes that Alma and his companions returned home to Zarahemla and that their new converts were forced to take up arms to defend themselves (Alma 35:13), and then he begins a rather lengthy digression: “Now Alma, being grieved for the iniquity of his people, yea for the wars, and the bloodsheds and the contentions which were among the people, and having been to declare the word…among all the people in every city…therefore, he caused that his sons should be gathered together, that he might give unto them every one his charge”(Alma 35:5-16).
After seven chapters copied from Alma’s personal record – consisting of Alma’s eloquent speeches of counsel to his three sons – Mormon tells us that Alma and his sons went out to preach again, and then he brings us back to the war that had begun so many pages earlier (Alma 43:3,4); notice again that the conflict has been reduced to Nephites and Lamanites, further obscuring the cause of the invasion).
In other words, Mormon inserts Alma’s instructions to his sons in the middle of the Zoramite War, where it represents a significant break in the narrative. But, since the war itself takes place entirely within the eighteenth year, with no discernible impact from the new round of preaching, Mormon could have recounted the Zoramite affair from the beginning to the end and then added Alma’s document without upsetting the chronology at all. In fact, under this arrangement, Alma’s teachings would have concluded his term as record keeper (Alma 44:24) and would have led quite naturally into his last words and death (Alma 45), the place where we typically would expect final words of fatherly wisdom (as in 2 Nephi 1-4). The surprising placement seems designed to disrupt a smooth reading of the Zoramite story, which, taken as a whole, did not go so well. By the time readers get back to the war, they may have forgotten the rather awkward truth that Alma’s preaching to the Zoramites not only did not prevent hostilities but was itself a major catalyst for the fighting (upon his return to the main narrative, Mormon quickly adds additional factors; Alma 43:5-8). Yet all the facts are there, even if the sequence of causation is obscured. Technically, Mormon acquitted himself as an honest historian, but he has also managed to divert our attention from some awkward details. (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, Reader’s Guide, pg. 148-150)
The Zoramite War: Alma 43:1-44:24
Preparations for War: Alma 43:1-15
43:2 “…except that they preached the word….” This is an example of an editorial interruption by Mormon that Grant Hardy calls a “summary”.
Regarding Alma’s sons: Helaman2 is a major participant (and the primary record keeper) in the events of Alma 45-62. We see Shiblon and Corianton in Alma 49:30 and in chapter 63, though they may be referred to in Alma 45:22, 48:19, 53:14, and 62:45.
43:3 “And now I return to an account…” Another editorial interruption by Mormon called a “resumption”. This narrative is continued from Alma 35:13.
43;4 “…the Zoramites became Lamanites;” How so? Skin color? Tradition? It appears there are possibly some assumptions that Mormon is making about what we as the reader are to understand from the label “Lamanite”.
43:5 “…Lamanites came with their thousands…”
In John Dehlin’s interview of Dr. Michael Coe, Dr. Coe said the following:
“The Aztecs could field fairly good-sized armies, but never that size [hundreds of thousands].” [Part 2, 36:00]
Dr. John Sorenson has this to say:
The following facts are documented: The Quiché force opposing the Spaniards numbered 232,000 despite the fact that some groups abstained from the alliance. The Aztecs mustered a force of 400,000 in a fairly routine campaign against a nearby kingdom. More problematic is Alba Ixtlilxochitl’s account of central Mexican history, according to which a combined Aztec army at one point consisted of 700,000 men. Of the hazier past, the historian said that in the last war of the “Tultecs,” which lasted three years and two months, a total (including women) of 5,600,000 persons were slain.32 Even if we skeptically and arbitrarily reduce that figure by 90 percent, the number would be of the same order of magnitude as that reported in the Book of Mormon for the final battle at Cumorah (Dr. John Sorenson, An Open Letter to Michael Coe, Also see: Don Domingo Juarros, A Statistical History of the Kingdom of Guatemala, in Spanish America . . . , trans. J. Baily (London: J. F. Dove, 1823), 389; Fray Diego Durán, The History of the Indies of New Spain(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 420; Ross Hassig, Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), 55; Alfred Chavero, trans., Obras Históricas de Don Fernando De Alva Ixtlilxochitl (Mexico: Editora Nacional, 1959), 58; and Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon (Oakland, CA: Kolob, 1950), 385).
43:11 see Alma 24:17-18 for the covenant
43:13 This is possibly the broadest, most explicit definition of “Lamanite” as an ethnic group.
The Exploits of Mormon1 : Alma 43:16-63:3
Mormon1 Out-prepares the Lamanites: Alma 43:16-21
43:18, 19 “..armed with swords…shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing…”
[JohnDehlin:] “There are steel swords mentioned in the Book of Mormon, or shields or helmets or whatever.” [Dr. Coe:] “Yes, that’s correct.” [Part 1, 23:00]
Dr. John Sorenson’s response:
Lehi’s party carried with them on their trek a sword of steel that was preserved as a sacred relic. When Nephites and Lamanites by the thousands were armed with swords, they obviously could not have been of metal, nor is there any reason from the text to suppose that they were. At one point a large group of Lamanites fled from military service by going to “the place of arms” to defend themselves. The description of the situation makes it appear to be an obsidian outcrop (possibly El Chayal). Their swords were very probably the obsidian-edged weapons called macuahuitl by the Aztecs. However, at one point in Jaredite history the record says that they made “swords out of steel.” This is clearly an unexplained anomaly. (However, note that the term that is read “steel” in the King James Bible is currently translated by experts as “bronze.”) A large variety of shields is known to have been used by Mesoamerican warriors from Pre-Classic times onward, but “helmets” are not mentioned at all in the Book of Mormon. (Dr. John Sorenson, An Open Letter to Michael Coe, Also see: John L. Sorenson, “Steel in Early Metallurgy,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15/2 (2006): 108–9)
An Ambush is Set: Alma 43:22-33
Teryl Givens, on the LDS version of the “Just War Theory” as seen in the Book of Mormon:
Well, I think that, that passage in isolation (Alma 46:12) certainly suggests the principle of just war. But, I think to understand the Book of Mormon in its totality, one has to see that the issue is more complex. I think that the Book of Mormon does directly address the subject of war and pasificm and I think it gives us an answer that really satisfies neither sides in the debate. I begin here with a theological premise that I think should underlie all LDS discussions of war in the Book of Mormon or in the contemporary world. And, that is, I think death is both vastly more and vastly less important than we make it out to be. It is vastly more important because no single principle is a more important gage of the Christly life than compassion. Going to its etymological root, we find that compassion is identical with the root meaning of empathy. It means the ability to vicariosly feel the pain of another human being and act accordingly.
So, to make any decision about going to war with anything other than the suffering that it will entail at the human level as our paramount concern, is the essence of un-Godly behavior. Our ability to concretly and feelingly entertain the imeasurable pain and suffering inflected by even one death is the measure of how close we are in our progress to acquiring a divine nature. That is why I think any celebration of war under any circumstances is a travisty.
But, in the same time if we take our theology seriously, and view mortality as the briefest of weigh stations, on our way to a continuing progression towards Godliness, then death is as necessary and relatively pedestrian a step as birth itself. It is a passage that is inevitable. And, it’s always going to represent a progression to a better place and condition. So, from that percpective, death is barely a coma in the long book of spiritual existence. And, the suffering that it entails, both individually and by its ripples, comprises just a passing moment in our long spiritual journey.
So, obviously given this master narrative, death on a scale, either minor or immense, can’t be considered in itself to be an absolute evil and the Lord apparantely recognizes this fact by apparently sanctioning, if the scriptures are to be believed, wars that are entered into in defense of principles consistent with the best interests of the human race – freedom being the prime example, at least in the Book of Mormon. It seems to me that the only way to recognize the twin claims that war makes upon us - to our pacifist instincts as compassionate beings and to our principled selves as defenders of what is good and true and expedient to God’s purposes - is to honor both of them. And, that’s precisely what the Book of Mormon does. It holds up the pacifist Anti-Nephi-Lehis as examples of the purist devotion and comitment – these absolutely compassion filled specimens of piety. And, it holds up their warrior-sons as models of courage, faith, and strict obedience.
So, to my mind this portrait that we get in the Book of Mormon, is a typical Hegelian tragedy. We have two sets if competing demands and choosing either one is a correct choice, but denying the legitamacy of either one is wrong. That subtle point is also made in the Book of Mormon, I think, in the contrasting motives and fortunes of Moroni and Teancum. Both were warriors, but Moroni, who is essentially a mass-killer, as a commanding general of a powerful army, he simultaneoulsy affirms his humanity and compassion mourning the necessity of war. Wheras Teancum allows his rage to obliterate his compassion. And, in killing the Lamanite king in a fit of anger, he steps outside this protective umbrella that I think is represented by the iner-confict that is the mark of true discipleship. So, in killing without remorse, he denies his own humanity. And, that’s why I think the Book of Mormon ultimately affirms both pacifism and just war.
…There should always be a conflict that we feel about going to war no matter how just because the motives that impel us towards war, in of themselves, can be righteous. But, those never should completly extinquish another set of demands that our humanity makes upon us -to do whatever we can to avoid human suffering.
…..To my knowledge that’s never been the case [not dehumanizing the enemy] with any war of which we have any historical record – whether it’s America fighting its enemies or the Japanese fighting the Chinese, everybody always engages in a process of dehumanization in order to try to obliterate that humanitarian instinct that tends towards pacifism….I think Moroni is the model to hold up for any Latter-day Saint who’s in the armed services. Which is, that we should always be engaged in the military with a sense of sadness that such a thing is even necessary. (Dr. Teryl Givens, The John Adams Center, Founding Principles and Todays Politics podcast, November 20, 2011, 2:08-8:23)